MARK MAYNARD and MIKE JAMES
First of two stories on the candidates for Ashland City Commission and the issues they are facing.
Six candidates, including all four incumbents, are running in the election for the Ashland city commission.
The four candidates voters choose on Tuesday will have a full plate in the coming term, grappling with issues ranging from water line replacement to liquor sales. They also will be working with a new mayor.
Candidates are incumbents Larry Brown, Tom Cantrell, Kevin Gunderson and Marty Gute, first-time challenger Tim Duley and former commissioner Cheryl Spriggs.
In interviews the week preceding the election, The Independent asked the candidates to discuss four crucial issues and then offered them the floor to touch on other matters they believe are important in Ashland.
Today and Sunday the candidates weigh in on those issues. In today’s story, they discuss Ashland’s aging and breakage-prone water and sewer lines, and talk about working with incoming mayor Chuck Charles.
In addition to frequent breaks, one of which snarled traffic in South Ashland for days recently when U.S. 23 was closed during repairs, the city is bound by a court judgment to upgrade its sewer system to comply with the federal Clean Water Act. The city’s system, which combines storm runoff with sanitary sewer discharges, can overflow during heavy rainfall or snowmelt, in what is called combined sewer overflow. When that happens, untreated sewage runs into streams and the Ohio River.
The city has until 2017 to fix the system at its own expense, which is estimated at $44 million.
The Independent asked candidates if case-by-case repairs of system problems is adequate or whether the city should develop a long-term plan — and what such a plan should entail.
Improved infrastructure is critical and the city must continue to make improvements whenever necessary, Cantrell said.
The $44 million CSO mandate has interrupted any long-range plans the city had for improvements. The city has filed for a deadline extension to 2025 to get the CSO work finished, he said.
But Cantrell said infrastructure is at the top of his to-do list if re-elected.
“We have to try work out a plan to alleviate some of these water main breaks and sewer breaks,” he said. “I think that’s one of our most pressing issues. If you don’t have (good) infrastructure, you can’t get business to come in here. We have to continue repairing on a day-to-day basis and keep good maintenance.”
The department of water will also have a mandated study on potable water at a cost of $26,500, Cantrell said.
“We’ve got to have a comprehensive plan to replace the (old) lines,” he said. “Infrastructure is necessary. We’ve got to have a comprehensive plan to replace the old lines first.”
Brown said it’s imperative the city develop a plan of action for infrastructure improvement, identify those in most need and begin prioritizing the repair and replacement.
“We need to start a timely fashion of repairing and replacing rather than taking the Band-Aid approach.
“Infrastructure is what will attract the new businesses,” he said. “I don’t want to tax the residents and businesses in Ashland any more than we are doing. We have to protect our existing businesses.”
Brown said there are far too many sewer and waterline breaks.
“These unfunded mandates have handcuffed us but it’s a problem that needs addressing.”
Duley said the commission needs to develop a long-range plan on upgrading the aging infrastructure.
“I know funding is needed and I have some ideas on how we can get some money coming back in,” he said, referring to paid events at the riverfront. “We can’t afford to keep paying people out of town (to do work). That’s my big issue. We have pipefitters and we have plumbers right here.”
Duley said the city could contract with union pipefitters to work directly for the city. He said the plan needs to be in place to replace the entire waterline, over time.
“At the end of the season, you could tie it back in,” he said. “Eventually we’d have them all replaced.”
While the CSO plan will solve some problems, it shouldn’t be considered “an ultimate Band Aid,” Gunderson said. Ashland does need a long-range plan but formulating one hasn’t been “politically sexy” because the systems are out of sight underground.
The systems are inadequately mapped, which leaves engineers and repair crews scrambling to find shutoff valves. Also, in the years since installation highways have paved over much of the system, and replacing lines there would cause disruptions.
An ideal plan will include replacement of lines, many of which are a century old and made of brittle cast iron. Right now, complete replacement would be cost-prohibitive. In the meantime the city will have to do the best it can with the resources it can find.
Gute expects the incoming commission to hold talks about a long-range plan. “Case by case has been a pain in the recent past but we’re not sitting on our hands. We know it’s a problem and when funds become available we’re working on it,” he said. However, the CSO plan takes priority.
The scope of a long-range plan would be determined by engineering studies and the city’s financial ability to pay for it, and should prioritize areas of the most dire need. Those probably would be the neighborhoods with the oldest lines.
The sooner Ashland can develop a long-range plan the better, because in the meantime the city will continue dealing with breaks. “We’re an old city and we’re paying for it,” Spriggs said.
Spriggs opposes raising taxes to pay for a replacement plan and would look for federal grants instead.
She favors a plan that would identify areas by priority and then replacing lines in phases.
A new chief
In the term to come, Ashland’s commissioners will be working with a very different chief executive.
Unlike outgoing mayor Tom Kelley, who retired as chief of police, Chuck Charles has not held a public position. However, before sailing unopposed to certain victory, Charles has been a very public face in Ashland.
He is best known as president of Summer Motion, Ashland’s signature summer festival, which he has headed for 14 years and which is now named as one of Kentucky’s top events. Charles also is a vice president at Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital.
We asked candidates to discuss their expectations of working with Charles.
Gute said his four years working with Kelley have been productive and that Kelley will be hard to replace.
“But I have the utmost respect for Chuck and look forward to working with him on the commission. He’s a go-getter. He knows how to network. He has been successful in everything he has done. He’s a team player and he likes to delegate.”
“Chuck is very forward-thinking and open to listening to ideas. I think he is going to be good for the city and I look forward to working with him. I think he is looking forward to working with the commission too.”
Spriggs said she has known Charles for a long time, through Rotary and other organizations, that they share some views, and that Charles’ high profile will be good for Ashland.
They share a commitment to small businesses and the desire to see them flourish downtown. “I look forward to working with Chuck. He is very forward-thinking and open to listening to ideas.”
“(Charles and I) have had discussions and he shares my views of Ashland, and I look forward to working with him.”
Gunderson called Charles a consensus-builder who is non-confrontational. “And I will assist him with any meetings he cannot attend and help in any way I can. That doesn’t mean we will agree all the time.”
Gunderson called Kelley “one of the best mayors we have had” and said the current commission and Kelley have an excellent working relationship.
Cantrell said he’s optimistic about incoming Mayor Chuck Charles and his ideas of “making Ashland the city of choice.”
“I look forward to working with Chuck. We’ll certainly listen to all of his ideas and hopefully bring some of them to pass. (But) You have to take care of the basic things first.
“I know his theme is making Ashland the city of choice but I have yet to know what he means about that. I’d like more details on bringing that about.”
Brown said he’s looking forward to working with the new mayor if re-elected. He complimented Kelley for his work the past four years.
“His management style is different from others and does a fantastic job,” Brown said. “He allows the city manager to do his job and allows the department heads to do their jobs.”
The outgoing Charles will have a different style than Kelley, who did what he promised when he took over.
“I’ve not worked with Chuck that much,” Brown said. “I can tell you one thing, it’s a team approach and not only a team approach but nothing can happen unless it’s a legally called meeting and three people agree. It’s people working together, not necessarily always agreeing, but moving forward and focusing on the best interest of our community, its residents and its businesses.”
Duley said he wouldn’t have any problem working with Charles.
“I think he’s going to be very good for the city. He’s a very good promoter and that’s what we need. We need motivated people in there to get out and beat the brush. I think Chuck will do well.
“I hope everybody in the city is willing to work with the elected officials who are going to work with him.”
MIKE JAMES can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2652 and MARK MAYNARD can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2648..